Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Munich Oktoberfestbier 1901 - 2006

The recent sunshine has got me thinking of Lager. That and a link posted on BeerAdvocate.

It was to a book called "Jahresbericht über die Leistungen der chemischen Technologie", published in 1901. In it are analyses of five beers served at the Oktoberfest in 1901. Right down my street. That's just the sort of stuff I collect.

As you must have noticed, I have an unhealthy interest in Lager styles and their development. It surprised me how little attention has been paid to their history. It's as if everyone assumes they've remained constant. Which obviously they haven't. If there's one point I've tried to get across it's that the past was a dynamic place.

If I'm honest, I'm not surprised at the difference between modern versions and those from more than 100 years ago. It's a pattern I've seen repeated over other styles. The gravity has fallen but the degree of attenuation has increased, leaving the ABV about the same.

It's even more extreme in the case of Salvator, where some 19th-century versions were under 50% apparent attenuation. The modern Paulaner beer is about 75%.

It's slightly odd that every one of the examples from 1901 has too high a gravity to be called Märzen in Germany today. The upper limit is 14º Plato. The two over 16º Plato would now be classified as Bock. There's also more variation in gravity than you see across modern examples.

But the biggest difference is in the degree of attenuation, which averages 80% for the modern ones, and 68% for those from 1901. Which leaves the Hacker-Pschorr beer from 1998 stronger than any of those from 1901, even though it has one of the lowest gravities.

I'm quite surprised by the amount of lactic acid in all those from 1910. I'd have expected a Lager to be below 0.10.

Munich Oktoberfestbier 1901 - 2006
Year Brewer package Lactic acid OG Plato OG FG ABV App. Atten-uation
1901 Unknown Munich draught 0.18 15.19 1061.8 1019.3 5.41 67.48%
1901 Unknown Munich draught 0.17 16.07 1065.6 1020.3 5.78 67.78%
1901 Unknown Munich draught 0.17 15.40 1062.7 1017.3 5.83 71.24%
1901 Unknown Munich draught 0.16 14.60 1059.3 1018.8 5.15 67.11%
1901 Unknown Munich draught 0.17 16.27 1066.5 1020.6 5.85 67.63%
1992 Löwenbräu draught 13.74 1055.6 1011.9 5.74 78.60%
1998 Hacker-Pschorr draught 13.60 1055 1010.5 5.90 80.91%
2004 Löwenbräu bottled 13.70 1055.4 1008.7 6.10 83.50%
2004 Spaten bottled 13.70 1055.4 1010.2 5.90 80.80%
2006 Paulaner draught 13.10 1052.9 1012.1 5.40 77.20%
Jahresbericht über die Leistungen der chemischen Technologie, 1903 page 434. 
Derek Walsh analysis
Löwenbräu website
Spaten website

"Jahresbericht über die Leistungen der chemischen Technologie" also had an analysis of Schwechater Märzen. One that surprised me. Which is why we'll be looking at Austrian Märzen next.


Gary Gillman said...

My guess is lower attenuations helped make the relatively acidic beers more palatable. As better technical controls obviated excess acidity in lager, the attenuations could arise. But also, it may have been a realization that greater economies could be realized, i.e., using less extract to achieve the same ABV. Palate, too, finally probably played a role, i.e., people today just don't accept the very sweet beers on an earlier time.

I have been concentrating lately on German lagers because I find they are coming in to our market, the draft too, much fresher than in past years when the telltale "chlorine" palate put me off them. Not all to be sure are close to their best, but many are including Spaten and HB's draft helles, Thurn und Taxi's dunkel, canned Lowenbrau and others especially certain brands in the big New York market.

After years of drinking craft beers, I am impressed with these German beers, they have a complexity and purity of beer flavour that should recommend them to any beer aficionado. They are the real deal, as Pilsner Urquell is, but you need to get them as fresh as possible, they don't take well to time on the shelves. The only thing I don't like about them is some have a strong sulphur note, something I noticed in situ in Germany. If anything the taste was stronger there. I believe this taste is one which was often aged out in the days when lagers received months of conditioning, but that in recent decades, people have just gotten used to the taste and don't "see it". This is IMO the "garlic" taste English observers noted in the same period as this table from 100 years ago. I don't mind it when isn't too pronounced and well balanced by other things going on in the beer. It seems largely confined to pale lagers, as well.


StuartP said...

Hmmm, a stein of strong German lager on a sunny afternoon.
I am starting to get a thirst on already.

Lars Marius Garshol said...

What about the colours? I thought that these beers had gotten considerably paler over the last two decades. Was there any mention of the colour in the original source?

Barm said...

In 1901 lager brewers wouldn’t have pure yeast cultures either, so there would be various lactic acid-producing bacteria lurking in the beer, still working very slowly despite low temperatures.

I think Gary could be right about the lower attenuation counter-balancing the acidity (or, the other way round, perhaps the acid gave the sweet beer more depth and structure, as is the case with some wines).

Jeff Renner said...

Any idea what color these beers were? I think that typically, "Munich" then referred to what we would call Dunkel now. Oktoberfest and Maertzen now seem to be anything from gold to copper.

Rod said...

Ron - does it say anything about colour? It's my definite impression that Oktoberfestbier has got paler. Salvator definitely has, big time.

Gary - are you sure you're not actually talking about DMS?

Ron Pattinson said...

No mention of colour in the original source. My personal guess would be dark brown. Everyone always seems to assume that because they're called Märzen, they must have been amber.

Oblivious said...

I am sure I read that lactic acid was added to fermenting könig ludwig dunkel to soften the beer flavor. An not just as a took to lower the ph of the mash.

I will try to confirm this tonight

Gary Gillman said...

Rod, hydrogen sulphide can be a problem too: